Friday, April 27, 2007
R.I.P. Jack Valenti, 1921-2007
I maintain a running mental list of "people whom I've never met, but who I'd buy as many rounds for as they'd let me, if I could just keep them talking where I could listen." One of the names on that list has been Jack Joseph Valenti, but he died yesterday of natural causes at age 85.
He died at his home in Washington, D.C., but he was a Texan and, more specifically, a Houstonian originally. His obituary in today's WaPo makes good reading, but its author probably thought this factoid was nothing more than a sort of amusing throw-away, a bit of self-effacing trivia on Mr. Valenti's part:
At 15, he became an office boy for Houston's Humble Oil and Refining Co., which later became Exxon Mobil....
He returned to Humble [after serving in World War II and earning a Harvard MBA,] and described his most notable work as the "clean bathroom" publicity campaign for the company.
"Clean bathrooms," yuk yuk. But a couple of generations of Texans (and probably Americans from elsewhere) of a certain age (close to mine) might read that last sentence and immediately flash back to a cartoon character ("Handy Oiler," I think?) wearing a spotless Humble Oil Co. (or maybe Esso or Enco) uniform, with a dual caption reading "Happy Motoring!" and "Clean Inside!" Roughly a half-century has passed since that ad campaign, and yet for reasons historical rather than rational, I still prefer to pull over into an Exxon station when I find myself in need of a clean bathroom while on the road.
Jack Valenti was famously associated with the movie industry, of course, but I suspect the most famous, and most telling, image of him personally was a still picture, reproduced below, in which he was hardly the center of attention on November 22, 1963. He was but one of many crammed into the main cabin of Air Force One as he watched his patron, Lyndon Johnson, taking the oath of office as the 36th President of the United States. Yet his face in this photo was a perfectly readable mask of fatigue and shock and pain.
He was a famous, and famously effective, lobbyist, and he had the reputation of a raconteur and story-teller. I leave to others any debate about whether he was a force for good or evil, and whether he was, on balance and over a long life, a good man or a bad man. I simply would that I had had a chance to hear him tell his tales unvarnished and in person — for no better reason than because I am a curious student of history, and he was a man who was so often, as in that photograph, within arm's length of its making.
Monday, April 23, 2007
A note folded away until 11/08
I lunched last week with three good friends — brothers at the bar whose lively banter, shoptalk, and political ruminations and arguments I much relish. In their personal politics, they are, in varying degrees, considerably to my left, and somewhat left of the hypothetical "center." One of them, by contrast, will insist that he is atop the political center by definition, since he supports the world-class triangulator of the 2008 race, Sen. Clinton. Another of my friends was in a t-shirt with a silk-screened image of George W. Bush, captioned: "I'll bet you're gonna vote next time, aren't you, hippie?"
Our conversation inevitably turned to the 2008 election and the likely nominees of each party. For what it's worth — and the answer to that is, it ought to be worth three of us buying rounds of drinks some evening in November 2008 — here were our lunchtime predictions. (Note: These are not necessarily our preferences, and in at least one case they definitely are not.) I cast them now upon the internet as a digital time-capsule, to be printed out and formally presented by the winning prognosticator (if any), in connection with settling up that bar bill of the future:
Friend #1: Clinton/Warner defeats Giuliani/Frist.
Friend #2: Clinton/Obama defeats Giuliani/Thompson.
Friend #3: Clinton/Obama defeats Romney/Giuliani.
Me: Thompson/Romney defeats Obama/Bayh.
(These predictions having been written by me in ink on a business reply mail flyer that came with our lunch check, I cannot now make any changes for official purposes. But after some further reflection, I would replace Bayh with Bill Richardson.)
The "Thompson" references above are all to Fred, not Tommy. But the best "wish-they-would" ticket suggestion of this lunch came from Friend #1, who noted that a Fred Thompson/Tommy Thompson ticket for the GOP could use the Thompson Twins' 1983 pop hit, Hold Me Now, as its campaign theme song — something to do, I suppose, with feeling secure in a time of international terrorism. But to my way of thinking, its lyrics — with lines like "We fuss and we fight and delight in the tears that we cry until dawn" and "You say I'm a dreamer, we're two of a kind / Both of us searching for some perfect world we know we'll never find" — are definitely Blue-State.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Light blogging again
On Monday I'm starting another trial, this one a bench trial of a commercial fraud case. I'm trying to save a small group of related, family-owned businesses, one of which went under a few years ago due to changes in its marketplace (which was moving to a "just-in-time" framework with which it was ill-equipped to cope, based on commitments made in the old economy). Now the landlord of that failed company is seeking to hold all of the other companies accountable, even though the landlord never acquired cross-guarantees from the sister corporations or a personal guarantee from the owners themselves. A loss would also likely destroy not only these family businesses and their owners, but also several dozen good (stable and well above minimum-wage) service jobs now held by very dedicated but unskilled workers, and their customers would probably look offshore for new service vendors to replace my clients. So I'm highly motivated in defending this case.
It's remarkable how freely wealthy money managers and their lawyers lightly throw around allegations of "fraud" whenever they're disappointed in the outcome of a deal, even when their own bad planning and harsh conduct contributed to the deal going south and when their targets are emphatically not deep pockets. A multi-decade history of profitable, honorable, good-faith dealing can be thrown out the window in an instant. This makes my clients understandably bitter. It produces business for me, but it's unhappy, ugly business that I'd rather not have (except for the fact that my clients so badly need a good lawyer). Far from all "lawsuit abuse" is committed by personal injury lawyers. Bogus commercial cases also exact a hidden "tax" on the national economy — and one way or the other, it's the consumer and other bystanders, as well as small-business entrepreneurs (like my clients) and their employees, who ultimately pay that tariff.
But everything else notwithstanding, I still believe in the system, and I am cautiously optimistic that justice will be done even though we're the underdogs going in (in the sense that the other side has essentially unlimited resources to pursue its vendetta, and I'm necessarily on a shoestring budget).
Blogging in the next few days is likely to be light to non-existent as a consequence of this case. Wish me (and my clients) luck!
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
New frontiers in shamelessness
We Democrats should've been unapologetic last week defending Speaker Pelosi because the truth was on our side: She had a right to go. And she was right to go. The coordinated attack on her trip to Syria was as inappropriate as it was irresponsible. And when that happens to one of our leaders, we should all damn well stand up and be counted in our support, or else we hand partisan operatives on the other side a dangerous victory.
So says Sen. John F. Kerry this week (emphasis mine).
By "partisan operatives on the other side," of course, Sen. Kerry means the Bush Administration and its supporters (if only on foreign policy matters; Joseph Lieberman would presumably be included). In Sen. Kerry's eyes, 'tis better to treat with, to fawn over, to snuggle up close and tight with the sworn enemies of the United States than to be seen as supporting the President of the United States (whoever, of whichever party, happens to hold that office at the time). Of course, "hand[ing] ... a dangerous victory" to the Ba'athist or Communist Parties is perfectly fine with the junior senator from Massachusetts.
And indeed, such comments are absolutely unsurprising from a man who, while capitalizing on his fame as a war hero, and while still storing in his closet the uniform of an officer of the United States Navy Reserve, went to Paris — at least once in 1970, and very possibly again in 1971 — to coordinate his antiwar efforts directly with the leaders of the Viet Cong.
He did so while knowing that several hundreds of Americans were being killed by those Viet Cong every month. (There were twice as many American deaths in Vietnam in 1970 alone as there have been in the entire Iraq War; in the two preceding years, there were over ten times as many.) He did so while dozens and dozens of Americans were still prisoners of war of the North Vietnamese, being subjected daily to psychological torture by their cruel captors who knew that evidence of betrayal from their home front would hurt them, scar them, more than broken bones or starvation or electric shocks or dislocated joints. He was so eager to meet with our enemies that he did so while on his honeymoon.
At least the first trip was admitted by Kerry in sworn testimony to the Senate, and it's been documented by such "SwiftBoating enthusiasts" as the NYT and the Boston Globe prior to the 2004 campaign. (During the campaign itself, the MSM conspicuously misreported the facts of the Paris trip(s). And Kerry's pet biographer, Douglas Brinkley, left it out of his book altogether even though he included vivid discussions of the rest of the honeymoon).
And yet I'll bet that if you asked a non-leading, non-multiple choice question, not one in twenty Democratic voters could provide you with a single detail of Kerry's bad faith in Paris. Among the (so far) 162 comments on the Huffpo blog entry on which Kerry made these remarks, the word "Paris" does not yet appear.
Whether the meeting(s) constituted outright treason, deliberate betrayal, or just grossly reckless and eager willingness to be made a Communist tool is still a matter of debate and opinion. Kerry has been largely effective in his three-decade stonewall of the details from which such fine judgments could be made with certainty.
I know John F. Kerry is just a political joke now. I try hard to ignore him; he doesn't deserve any serious attention anymore from anyone. But dammit, the man can still make me very, very angry. Even "Tail-Gunner" Joe McCarthy had a more highly developed sense of shame than John F. Kerry.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Easiest fast-forwarding decisions of the day
Stephanopoulos voice-over lead-in on this morning's ABC News This Week:
In January, 2004 Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and his wife Teresa decided against another White House run. Instead, the Kerrys are campaigning for the cause that first brought them together: the environment. Their new book, This Moment on Earth, highlights ordinary people —
BzzzzZZZZZT! About half-through my thumb slipped, so I hear Teresa say:
I think my biggest problem is going to try to curb the amount of flying I do [sic] and so I've tried to plan and do about a third of the flying I was doing.
Yeah, right. Gonna cut it back to one-third as many trips in your Gulfstream V (the aptly named "Flying Squirrel") are you, ma'am? How admirable! Such a sacrifice!
BzzzzZZZZZT! Now where are the "Sunday Funnies"?
We can't expect candidates to come up with the "best of the bad" options for Iran, nor wait for them to do so
As it happened, when I read Dr. James Joyner's thoughtful post entitled "Railing Against the Pirates of Tehran," I had just added a link to Fred Thompson's blog-post yesterday on Redstate in a post of my own about Iran earlier this morning.
I agree with several of Dr. Joyner's observations. To begin with, the Redstate post likely was drafted by a staffer rather than Sen. Thompson himself — but that's true of most of what candidates "write" and "say," and Dr. Joyner offers that observation merely as an aside (as do I). More substantively, he's right both that Sen. Thompson's post has gotten a lot of quick and reverential buzz in the conservative blogosphere, and that "tough but vague words are apparently quite appealing." And finally, Dr. Joyner is certainly correct in noting (as he and I and many others have before, many times) that with respect to Iran and in particular with respect to its nuclear ambitions, "[t]he plain truth of the matter is that there are no good options here."
I suspect that Dr. Joyner's correct in his assumption that "Iran’s nuclear facilities are scattered and buried deep enough to make their destruction from the safety of a B-1 bomber virtually impossible." That doesn't mean, though, that we ought to rule out making such an attempt. And I disagree with Dr. Joyner's assertion that an American or coalition "military invasion would likely have more negative consequences for the region than a nuclear armed Iran."
In a comment to Dr. Joyner's post, I said that my "working assumption is that if the Iranians get a nuke, they'll use it," and that I am "not just worried about them using a nuke to ratchet up their regional leverage." Dr. Joyner graciously and promptly confirmed that he does indeed have a different working assumption:
Remember, Joe Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Jong Il, and the Pakistanis had/have nukes. Nobody has popped one off.
The mullahs may be crazy but they're not irrational. Using a nuke would assure their destruction, as Israel or somebody will turn them into a glass parking lot. Short of using it, conversely, having a nuke increases Iran's prestige and security.
With this, I agree in important part. Remember that Saddam Hussein could still be in power today if he'd given in to U.S. demands regarding WMD inspections in early 2002. He could have left his hand-picked Ba'athist successors in place and fled to asylum with billions in hand and his sons in tow even up to the brink of the U.S. invasion. Yet such was his tenuous grasp on reality that he chose to defy the U.S., and that when we finally pried him out of his spider hole, his response was: "I am the President of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate."
The Iranian mullahs, by contrast, turned over the U.S. embassy hostages within hours after Ronald Reagan's inauguration (and the hand-over of the "football" with the launch codes). It's true that they later got the better of him in another session of carrot-only negotiations. But that again just goes to show that they know how the carrots and sticks game is played.
For that matter, they just bluffed Tony Blair out of his socks when they were holding nothing better than a pair of deuces. (I don't mean to trivialize the value of the 15 British personnel who were hostages, but in realpolitik terms, they didn't amount to more than that.) But the Iranians couldn't have run that bluff successfully except for the facts that (a) Blair was pathetically eager to fold and (b) the Iranians had the cunning and insight to correctly predict what he'd do.
That the mullahs are rational means that we ought to be able to compel substantial changes in their behavior, especially now, by force and even by credible threats of force well short of a full-scale invasion.
When you've got the biggest stack of chips at the table and you're sure you have the stronger poker hand, but when the other guy may improve his own hand substantially if you permit him to stay in the game, that's when you shove in a stack of chips that it's prohibitive for him, as a rational actor, to match. You must make it too expensive for him to stay in the game until the showdown, or you're squandering your own advantages. That poker strategy works substantially less well, however, and in fact it may become quite dangerous, when your opponent is down to his last few chips, or when the tournament is about to hit its time limit anyway.
We want to hasten the day when Mr. Ahmadinejad and the hyper-political mullahs find themselves about to be overthrown by their own people — but not the day when they can instantly cement their own positions and preserve their power by nuking Tel Aviv. Stalin and Mao were indeed also crazed and sometimes irrational, but they didn't face serious and imminent risks of being deposed through internal revolution; they didn't have the "upside" for using nukes that the Iranians might perceive, and they operated in a era when America's willingness to turn their countries into the proverbial green-glass parking lots was unquestionable. And whether Kim Jong Il or a radical successor to Musharraf will continue to behave rationally worries the hell out of me too; I take no comfort whatsoever in those examples, nor find in their brief nuclear histories any persuasive reason to accept the prospect of a nuclear Iran.
In a sentence: However bad the military, economic, political, and diplomatic fall-out from an American-led full-scale invasion of Iran would be, it would be trivial compared to the entirely likely and quite literal (non-metaphorical) fall-out from an Iranian nuclear strike on Israel. (Or elsewhere — and yes, that could include the U.S., even if not as soon via missile). I don't suggest that Dr. Joyner is trivializing or over-discounting the dangers of a nuclear Iran; I know he's no starry-eyed idealist who thinks that another regional conference and, gee whiz, some humility from the White House will put all to right. But what he may grimly and reluctantly characterize as a tolerable disaster, I still consider an intolerable one.
That there are no good or easy options does not mean there are no probably-effective options whatsoever. Setting aside, for the moment, political and diplomatic concerns, there are lots of ways we could squeeze the hell out of the mullahs short of a full-scale invasion. Taking out their single gasoline refinery could be done with cruise missiles. Attriting their air force and navy in sharp, swift stages would also be very doable. Achieving air superiority over all of Iran and coastal superiority over all its shoreline is also doable. A genuine economic blockade — something that will pinch, not just mushy U.N. sanctions — is also within our power. And, again, that we may not be able to thoroughly eliminate the Iranian nuclear program via air strikes doesn't mean we ought not try. If we go hard for all the choke points we think we've found, we might still knock their plans for a serious loop, even without troops on the ground. And then there's sabotage and other covert ops — as to which I'm pretty sure that you, I, and Dr. Joyner are not supposed to be in a position to make very intelligent guesses about (although Dr. Joyner's are likely to be better than yours or mine, given his background). I nevertheless presume that Langley and the Pentagon (and perhaps the Mossad) have made some plans and preparations along those lines.
Even a full-scale invasion, if things came to that — and there are excellent reasons to believe it need not — could be done at a cost in American blood and treasure that would be slight in comparison to any of our wars fought prior to 1990.
The political and diplomatic furor, however, would be hugely incommensurate with those costs. Successfully invading and deposing the current regime might permit us to root out and exterminate Iran's nuclear program, but even in a country without the internal risks of civil war that have always characterized Iraq, there are great costs and risks associated with occupation and the reestablishment of a new regime. And regardless of all of the above, a full-scale invasion would clearly require a Congressional declaration of war or its functional equivalent. Whether it should or not, that simply is not going to happen unless there's some intervening, shattering event that causes the same sort of paradigm-shifting which came on 9/11/01.
Whatever the best of the bad options may be, however, we shouldn't and mustn't expect Sen. Thompson, nor the other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, nor for that matter the contenders for the Democratic nomination, either to articulate the precise plans for those options or build a consensus for executing them. By definition, candidates lack the current power to effectuate policies. Moreover, they have strong inherent disincentives for being specific on such things as military plans.
Indeed, the Iranian nuclear aspirations are a problem that can't wait until the 2008 election, much less the 2009 inauguration. And although it's a free-world problem, the recent British wobblies make it starkly clear that any solution must be an American one — meaning, since Dubya is unlikely to get any help from Congress, a Presidential one. Supposedly the flip-side to the lame duck conundrum is that a second-term President is freed from worry about his personal prospects during the next election. The 2006 election cycle demonstrated that Dubya's unwilling to let worries about Republican Party successes and failures affect GWOT/foreign policy strategies other than at the margins.
But one may also reasonably presume that Dubya would prefer to see his party at least retain the White House and its blocking position, and to avoid giving the Democrats a veto-proof margin in the House and Senate. Self-restraint based on those domestic political concerns — plus the Constitutional limitations on independent action by the President at the boundaries between war and peace, and (more remotely) the credible threat of impeachment — will pose the greatest difficulties to President Bush in his quest to scuttle the Iranians' nuclear ambitions during the last one and three-quarter years of his presidency.
Nevertheless, if there's a single paragraph from everything he's ever said as President that ought to define Dubya's role in history, it's this one, from the 2002 State of the Union address:
We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.
On that, I hope that Dr. Joyner and I — and you, esteemed friends and neighbors — will all agree.
Blurred vision about who blinked
Mickey Kaus suggests that the British actually just scored a huge coup against the Iranians:
The hostages were released in a one-day propaganda stunt, maybe in exchange for the release of an Iranian we were holding and Iranian visitation rights for some others. But the Iranians were also looking at an awful lot of aircraft carriers steaming around their neighborhood. Didn't they blink? If that's humiliation, it's not far from what a U.S.-U.K. victory in the crisis would look like.
I enjoy reading contrarian points of view as a general rule, and Mr. Kaus is often a deft and funny contrarian. But this bit is just remarkably silly, and it's certainly the most naïve thing I can recall ever having read from Mr. Kaus. I wrote on Friday that I will not mock the Brits, but neither will I turn reality on its head to make their humiliation look like triumph.
A "victory" isn't when your opponent — a fourth-rate military joke of a country — has committed an act of war on you and then completely gotten away with it, without any consequences to itself and while leaving you looking entirely impotent.
Genuine "victory" would have been Iran never daring to commit an act of war against any NATO member or American ally to begin with.
Short of that — if we take as a given for our analysis of various hypothetical scenarios that Iran already has committed this act of war — then "victory" would have been (a) an ultimatum from the Brits issued in the first 72 hours of the crisis (b) giving the Iranians another day or so to immediately return its personnel and their gear, unconditionally, with (c) a groveling apology from the Iranians, (d) upon penalty of a full-scale shooting war were the deadline ignored. Can anyone doubt that Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher would have done exactly that? Can anyone doubt that it would have worked? In this scenario, the Iranians would indeed have "blinked," it would have been their country who was humiliated, and Britons could continue to walk proudly and with heads held high.
Nobody — anywhere — ever! — can imagine that in an actual military conflict, Iran could stand up to the U.K. and the U.S. acting together. It's true that the U.K.'s own military capabilities now are even less than they were at the time of the Falklands War; fighting Iran alone now would have been harder for the U.K. than fighting Argentina alone was then. But even so, there's not much serious doubt about whether the U.K. could, all by itself, ultimately whip Iran if given enough time and motivation. More to the point, however, surely the U.K. would not have been acting all alone. And during a long weekend, any single American carrier group could accomplish specified military objectives ranging from the destruction of Iran's single gasoline refinery, to the practical destruction of Iran's entire air force and navy, to turning Tehran into the proverbial green-glass parking lot.
So this wasn't like, say, the Berlin Airlift in 1948-1951 or the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, when two military giants stood toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, menacing and growling at one another before one finally blinked. Mr. Kaus seems to be using that kind of frame of reference, and it just doesn't fit.
No, this was about a wicked, dangerous, and juvenile country that was misbehaving in a fashion it carefully calibrated and calculated to be as outrageous as practicable. "As outrageous as practicable" is a relative concept, but here, it meant "very outrageous indeed": Iran calculated, correctly, that its target would react as though drugged with self-doubt and paralyzed by self-restraint. Iran could rely, after all, on some substantial portion of world public opinion, even within Britain and the U.S., to blame George W. Bush for whatever Iran did.
And Iran undertook its outrageous behavior not out of even feigned or pretended military confidence, but rather out of its conviction — now shamefully confirmed — that the two vastly more powerful, mature, and decent countries who could and should have done something to punish it, wouldn't. Iran's reward is not just in "getting away with it," but in having been seen by the entire world to have "gotten away with it" — and Iran's cool and successful calculation to pull that off was quite the opposite of "blinking."
The matador who taunts and escapes the bull is not bigger, stronger, or faster, but the fans don't cheer for and throw roses at the bull. It's true that the nimble and ghastly Mr. Ahmadinejad has danced out of the center of the bullring for the moment, blowing back kisses to the crowd, with the bull yet unslain. But John Bull and his faithful American cousins are wounded, maddened, saddened, embarrassed, perhaps confused. And our joint will for future fighting has been bled down a goodly amount — even though our fights with Iran, military or diplomatic, are neither over yet nor, truly, well begun.
Mr. Kaus finishes his analysis with: "Would [conservatives] have been happier if the Iranians hadn't caved so easily? Just asking!"
Well, Mickey, I'm glad you asked. We'd be happy if the Iranians had stayed the hell away from even a small British boarding team, and if the Iranians had instead been deterred effectively because they knew that committing an act of war, even against so relatively few military personnel, would be treated as an act of war with the likely consequence of — yes — war. (To switch my animal metaphors again abruptly:) That the Iranians felt free to beard the British lion is an outrage. But the larger outrage is that the Iranians have gotten away with it — and have therefore been encouraged to commit more such behavior in the future. That encouragement actually makes full-scale war ultimately more likely than would be the case if small but deliberate provocations had genuine adverse consequences. Precisely because we'd rather we not have to someday fight that war, conservatives are very disappointed in this result. We understand that appeasement ultimately leads more certainly to war.
The obvious prescription for the complete cure of Mr. Kaus' blurred vision is that he immediately read any decent biography of Theodore Roosevelt — who was himself famously myopic but geopolitically clear-sighted, and who would have reacted to the sort of political analysis Mr. Kaus has engaged in here with eye-watering, lip-foaming apoplexy. Failing that, Mr. Kaus might read this TR-like op-ed from Fred Thompson.
Friday, April 06, 2007
I will not mock the Brits
When the Iranian "students" seized the U.S. Embassy and 66 American hostages in Tehran in November 1979, I was a young adult, finishing my last year of law school. It was hard to resist drawing an inference that my entire adult life as an American was likely to be filled with such national humiliations.
Interest rates and inflation around twenty percent would be the norm for the rest of my life, I thought. Gas lines would only be common every two or three years, if we were very lucky. It would be a few months yet before images of American helicopters burning at the Desert One rescue staging site would fill the media, but comparable images of American helicopters being pushed off carrier flight decks during the scramble out of Saigon in April 1975 were still vivid.
My fears and concerns had peaked a few months before the embassy seizure, when the leader of the Free World had given a nationally televised speech based on a just-concluded touchy-feely session he'd held with a collection of wise advisers at Camp David. As a result, our President had concluded that we were facing a "national crisis of confidence":
I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy....
The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
It's too bad that this pithy and appropriate expression was not around back then: "Well, duh!" Yes, that's about all we could all agree on — that things weren't the way they ought to be in America.
As his prescribed cure, however, Jimmy Carter told us that we had to "face the truth," and then just "have faith." We all just needed to try harder and to think happy thoughts. I'm sure as he read his speech-writers' words before delivering this speech, he thought to himself, "Yeah, this will be inspiring! This will help us start a real turn-around!" But so un-inspiring, so depressing, so ridiculously irresponsible was this performance that it became known as Carter's "malaise" speech, even though he didn't actually use the word "malaise." It was like a bad Henny Youngman joke: "Did you see the President's speech last night on the national apathy crisis?" Answer: "Naw, not interested, don't care."
Malaise, of course, was but a symptom; Carter, his party, and their policies were the disease. That much is evident from the one thing that Carter did, amazingly, get right in that speech: "We are at a turning point in our history," he said; "There are two paths [from which] to choose."
And sure enough, Ronald Reagan, bless his soul, rescued us from malaise by brilliantly spotlighting the path to recovery. In November 1980, a year after the hostages were seized, American voters rejected the path to malaise; and that election did begin the national turn-around. Ronald Reagan led; he took action; and he inspired, whereas Carter had just mouthed the words. Our national enemies trembled, flinched, blinked, and retreated — including the mad mullahs who released our hostages simultaneously with his inauguration. And as a direct result of the Reagan Revolution, the America of my adult life has turned out to be very different — and vastly better in almost every important way — than what I had anticipated back in November 1979.
This week, Britain has also suffered a national humiliation at the hands of the Iranians — a humiliation that in many respects is similar to the one inflicted by Iran upon America in 1979-1980. Britain's humiliation, in fact, was supervised by one of those very same "students" who seized the American embassy and hostages in 1979! He, for one, no doubt feels that the glory days of his youth have returned. He has bearded the British lion, yet retains his hand and his fingers.
There are substantial numbers of clear-eyed, clear-thinking British who are as sorrowful and ashamed of their country's standing today as I was of the United States' standing during that earlier hostage crisis. They have my sympathy; I join them in their grief.
But I will not now mock their country, not even for rhetorical purposes intended to illustrate how far their nation's fortunes have fallen. I can't tell you yet — and probably neither can they — who Britannia's next Churchill, Reagan, or Thatcher will be. And neither can I say how far they yet are from dawn, nor whether these events represent the darkest pre-dawn hours. Indeed, I fear that more grim events are ahead for the Brits — just as I fear the incipient Neo-Carterism of the Democratic Party in the U.S. and the possibility that after the 2008 election, they may drive us back to 1979 all over again.
Nevertheless, if there's another nation in the world, besides my own beloved country, that I can admire and revere and respect and, yes, love, then it's the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The sun has long since set upon their empire, but I deny that there's a never-ending night in store for either them or us. That Mr. Ahmadinejad still has all his fingers, and that the lion may have gone a bit flabby and altogether too reluctant to show its teeth, does not mean that the lion is now and forever after will be toothless.
If there's a message I could send to those British people who are despondent today over their country's national humiliation — if any of them should happen to stumble upon my humble blog across the transatlantic fiber optics of the internet — it's this:
Buck up, cousins. We know that this incident came about despite, rather than because of, your nation's genuine and enduring character. Those of us Yanks who have the wits and the sense to appreciate your sorrow, share it; and we will cheer with you when things turn around, as we know they inevitably will.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Daniel Schorr: Conned or con man?
[Elisabetta] Burba is a reporter for an Italian news magazine that provided the American embassy in Rome with one of the forged documents that the president relied on in 2003 to assert that Iraq was buying uranium from the African country of Niger ....
Her detailed story, with pictures of the principal documents, is contained in a book titled The Italian Letter: How the Bush Administration Used a Fake Letter to Build the Case for War in Iraq. From this book, excerpted in the Washington Post, it appears that the president had every reason to doubt the authenticity of the documents when he, in the State of the Union address, asserted that Iraq was buying significant quantities of uranium from the African country of Niger....
And the big question now: Was Mr. Bush conned? Or was he the con man?
Of course, conservative pundits and news sources (here and here, for example) have been grinding their teeth in frustration for months and months over the mainstream media's and the Angry Left's distortions about the famous "sixteen words" from the 2003 State of the Union Address. Maybe Mr. Schorr doesn't read any conservative pundits or news sources.
It is simply amazing how so few words can be so badly, and consistently, twisted into a partisan lie. Regardless of the forged "Italian letter," the famous "sixteen words" were in fact accurate as of the time they were spoken, as documented in both the Butler Report (at page 123 (page 137 of the .pdf file), paragraph 499) from the U.K. and the bipartisan, joint section of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report from the U.S. (See generally this discussion at Factcheck.org (h/t Justin Levine), which is hardly a mouthpiece of the Bush Administration. And this seems to be a pretty thorough fisking of the WaPo excerpt on the new book.)
Nevertheless, Mr. Schorr absolutely, positively knew better than to say what he said yesteday — and that was not very long ago at all. Per Mr. Schorr in another NPR "news analysis" broadcast on July 13, 2005 (emphasis mine):
In 2002, President Bush, having decided to invade Iraq, was casting about for a casus belli. The weapons of mass destruction theme was not yielding very much until a dubious Italian intelligence report — partly based on forged documents, as it later turned out — provided reason to speculate that Iraq might be trying to buy so-called yellowcake uranium from the African country of Niger....
Of course, the famous sixteen words did not claim that Iraq "was buying" or "had bought" uranium, nor even that Niger or any other African government or company had agreed to sell uranium to Iraq. Rather, the President actually said (emphasis mine):
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
That Mr. Schorr once got it right — that he once was an accurate reporter of this particular critical fact, the difference between "bought" and "sought" — is what distinguishes Daniel Schorr from, for example, the authors of the (equally misleading) WaPo piece. Their stupidity is patent, but perhaps not demonstrably inconsistent with things they've said before.
But even if there could still be a reasonable debate about whether the "sixteen words" were true, or weren't true, or were some sort of lie — even if we reject the Butler Report and the Senate Intelligence Committee Report — there is not, and there never has been, and there never could have been, any good-faith dispute as to what the sixteen words actually were. Yet yesterday, Mr. Schorr badly misled the American public (twice!) on that very subject. If the misstatement cannot be said to have been in "good faith" — and it simply cannot be, given what Daniel Schorr's distinctive, sonorous, recorded voice may still be heard having said on the exact same topic less than two years ago — then what choice does that leave? At best, it is an inexcusable mistake, a grossly negligent mistake, a mistake so reckless and without regard for its consequences that outside observers may treat it, for all practical purposes, as having been an intentional act of bad faith. If a newsman can't get this sort of basic fact right, then how is he distinguishable, for practical purposes, from a deliberate liar?
Nevertheless, for impractical purposes, for moral culpability purposes, the distinction between merely blameworthy and wholly corrupt depends on the actual cause of Mr. Schorr's misstatement. So what range of causes could there possibly have been?
It's possible, I suppose, that Mr. Schorr is growing absent-minded or even senile, and that he simply forgot yesterday what he'd said in 2005. It's possible that he just relied yesterday on the WaPo article, trusting it over his own memory. I suppose it's also possible that Mr. Schorr just reads whatever someone else writes and sticks in front of him, retaining little or nothing, and that this is someone else's deliberate misrepresentation or inexcusable mistake. In any of these three events, NPR's fact-checkers have no such excuse; and given his own breakdown in reliability between 2005 and now, Mr. Schorr himself should be gently retired.
Or it could be that Mr. Schorr has become a partisan hack masquerading as a "news analyst," someone who's lost all objectivity, someone who's entirely betrayed the journalistic principles of which he was considered an exemplar when he was at CBS, someone who no longer gives a damn about easily verified, undisputed, and indisputable facts, and someone whose overriding goal is to do or say anything (including the telling of outrageous lies on NPR that are inconsistent with what he himself has earlier said), just so long as that will reflect badly on the Bush Administration. Gentle retirement would be inappropriate in that instance, and as with Dan Rather, no cure but what effectively amounts to firing would do.
We, the listening public, are left to wonder which one or more of these possible explanations applies. And so, here we are.
The big question now: Was Mr. Schorr conned? Or was he the con man?
(I have, of course, emailed NPR with the particulars of my complaint. We'll see if they issue a correction or otherwise respond. I am not entirely without hope that they might.)
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Spot the tool
This photo — with the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, in the center — is from the Syrian Arab News Agency (h/t Michael Rubin on The Corner). Notice the composition.
Cropped and enlarged version. Notice the body language. Who is the supplicant, eager to give up something, anything, to gain the other's approval?
This photo might as well be titled: "Just Hang On Until January 2009."
In fact, that's the title that this photo might be given by both the Syrian Arab News Agency and the Democratic National Committee, if they were candid (which neither is, of course).
If you were a clear-eyed student of both history and fables, you could, I suppose, caption it: "Frog (left) 'negotiating' river crossing with scorpion (right)."
Or you could boil it down to one word, representing what the Syrians must be privately thinking: